Thomas Powell conducts research on competitive advantage, behavioural strategy, and the philosophical foundations of strategy. He works both independently and collaboratively with colleagues at the University of Oxford and around the world.
Professor Powell’s research combines statistical analysis with field observations to examine the competitive strategies and performance of firms and industries. His research shows that most competitive advantages are fleeting and that sustainability does not stem from crucial strategic assets but from the integration and alignment of strategies, people, systems, and the sound execution of strategy fundamentals like best practice and customer service. His statistical research on firm performance introduced new rank-ordering methods for describing performance shifts among competing firms.
Powell, T.C. and Reinhardt, I. (2010) Rank Friction: An Ordinal Approach to Persistent Profitability, Strategic Management Journal, 31, 1244-1255.
Powell, T.C., Rahman, N. and Starbuck, W.H. (2010) European and American Origins of Competitive Advantage, Advances in Strategic Management, 27, 313-351.
Powell, T.C. (2006) Unlock the Deep Structure of Competitive Performance, Strategy, 9, 9-14.
Powell, T.C. and Lloyd, C. (2005) Toward a General Theory of Competitive Dominance, Strategic Management Journal, 26(4), 385-394.
Powell, T.C. and A. Dent-Micallef (1998) Technologies De L'Information: Necessites Strategique ou Sources D'Avantage Concurrentiel? Un Test Empirique Dans L'Industrie De La Distribution Americaine, Canadian Journal of Administrative Science, 15(2), 207-228.
Powell, T.C. and A. Dent-Micallef (1997) Information Technology as Competitive Advantage: The Role of Human, Business and Technology Resources, Strategic Management Journal, 18(5), 375-405.
Powell, T.C. (1996) How Much Does Industry Matter?: An Alternative Empirical Test, Strategic Management Journal, 17(4), 323-334.
Powell, T.C. (1995) Total Quality Management as Competitive Advantage, Strategic Management Journal, 16(1), 15-37.
Powell, T.C. (1995) When Lemmings Learn to Sail: Turning Total Quality Management to Competitive Advantage, Handbook of Business Strategy (B. Voss and D. Willey, eds.), Faulkner & Gray, 42-54.
Powell, T.C. (1994) High-Performance Strategic Planning for Competitive Advantage, Handbook of Business Strategy (H. Glass and B. Cavan, eds.), New York, Faulkner & Gray, 383-398.
Powell, T.C. (1994) Untangling the Relationship between Formal Strategic Planning and Financial Performance: The Role of Contingency Factors, Canadian Journal of Administrative Science, 11(2), 124-138.
Powell, T.C. (1993) Firm-Specific Competitive Advantage in High-Technology Firms, Journal of High Technology Management Research, 4(2), 197-209.
Powell, T.C. (1993) Administrative Skill as Competitive Advantage: Extending Porter's Analytical Framework, Canadian Journal of Administrative Science, 10(2), 141-153.
Powell, T.C. (1992) Strategic Planning as Competitive Advantage, Strategic Management Journal, 13(7), 551-558.
Powell, T.C. (1992) Organizational Alignment as Competitive Advantage, Strategic Management Journal, 13(2), 119-134.
Behavioural Strategy merges cognitive and social psychology with strategic management theory and practice, and is one of the hottest new areas in strategy research. Its purpose is to improve the practical usefulness of strategy theory by grounding strategy in realistic assumptions about human cognition, emotion, and social interaction. Professor Powell co-authored one of the defining papers in Behavioural Strategy and he authored the first paper in Neurostrategy. In addition to his work on brain imaging and neuro-chemicals, he has studied phenomena such as attribution, beliefs, stress and impulsiveness. For example, his research on attribution argues that executives exploit the complexity and ambiguity of large organizations to make performance attributions that are flattering to themselves – for example, nearly all executives claim that their people skills are above-average, a claim that is notoriously hard to falsify.
Powell, T.C., Lovallo, D. and Fox, C. (2011) Behavioral Strategy, Strategic Management Journal, 32, 1369-1386.
Powell, T.C. (2011) Neurostrategy, Strategic Management Journal, 32, 1484-1499.
Powell, T.C. (2011) Analysis: Reputation on the Brain, Reputation, 02, 03.
Powell, T.C. and Arregle, J-L. (2009) Pour Une Approche plus Équilibrée de la Performance des Firmes, Review Française de Gestion, 35, 147-165.
Powell, T.C. and Arregle, J-L. (2007) Firm Performance and the Axis of Errors, Journal of Management Research, 7(2), 59-77.
Powell, T.C., Lovallo, D. and Caringal, C. (2006) Causal Ambiguity and Management Perception, Academy of Management Review, 31(1), 175-196.
Powell, T.C. (2004) Strategy, Execution and Idle Rationality, Journal of Management Research, 4(2), 77-98.
Powell, T.C. (1993) The Role of Ethics in Individual Decision-Making, Canadian Journal of Administrative Science, 10(3), 269-279.
Powell, T.C. (1991) Shaken, but Alive: Organizational Behavior in the Wake of Catastrophic Events, Industrial Crisis Quarterly, 5, 271-291.
Philosophical foundations of strategy
Professor Powell’s philosophical work challenges the traditional view that the best theories of competitive advantage rely on a combination of sound logical deduction and empirical testing. In fact, these theories are based on tautological reasoning and could survive any conceivable empirical test. Powell argues that these theories cannot give necessary and sufficient conditions for firm success, and they persist only as inferences to the most convincing explanation. However, according to Professor Powell, these theories can shed light on competition and performance if used along with inductive and probabilistic methods such as Bayesian analysis to test hypotheses about unobservable causes. The epistemological value of strategy theories, according to Powell, resides not in their objective “truth” but in their capacity to drive conversations that people find interesting and productive, and to deal with the current intellectual and practical preoccupations of those who operate in the domain of strategy.
Powell, T.C. (2003) Strategy without Ontology, Strategic Management Journal, 24(3), 285-291.
Powell, T.C. (2003) Varieties of Competitive Parity, Strategic Management Journal, 24(1), 61-86.
Powell, T.C. (2002) The Philosophy of Strategy, Strategic Management Journal, 23(9), 873-880.
Powell, T.C. (2001) Competitive Advantage: Logical and Philosophical Considerations, Strategic Management Journal, 22(9), 875-888.
Powell, T.C. (2001) Fallibilism and Organizational Research: The Third Epistemology, Journal of Management Research, 4, 201-219.